Covid-19 and the impact it has on grassroots football

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Many Women’s Super League clubs have postponed their fixtures last weekend due to the increasingly worrying Covid-19 Omicron breakout.

For a number of reasons, this is an entirely sensible decision.

Emma Hayes revealed her players’ concerns over Covid stating that they are all “human beings.”

Additionally, the Chelsea manager reminded us that many of her players could not see their families last Christmas. She is worried this might be an issue again and will have a further negative impact on the mental health of her players.

Grassroots football

In grassroots football, the concerns are exactly the same. Nicole Allison, Executive Director for Worcester City Women FC, is currently in discussion with the West Midlands Regional Women’s Football League.

The league, overseeing Tiers 5 and 6, is sticking rigidly to the most recent FA guidance for managing Covid within football. The document was updated on December 16th 2021, in line with the government announcement to move to ‘Plan B’.

However, Allison is wondering where the human perspective appears in the interpretation and application to our grassroots clubs and players. She emailed the league, stating WCWFC would not play their fixture at the weekend due to a high number of Covid cases.

The club is also awaiting test results from other players. League rules show that if a team can field seven players, then it must fulfil its fixture. Ridiculously, this adds to the already high mental stress players are experiencing and Allison is rightly concerned.

Midlands Regional Women’s Football League Covid Policy

The Policy With Immediate Effect

When a club approaches the League to report COVID issues we will adopt the following approach:

1. We will remind the Club of the FA Rule that a minimum of 7 players constitute a team for the purpose of fulfilling a fixture

2. We will check to establish how many players that Team has registered for the 2021-2022 Season

3. We will class COVID infection & PHE/NHS mandatory isolations the same as injury/illness so we will request evidence.

4. The Club will be asked to provide screen shot/image(s) of notification sent to a player(s) to inform the player(s) of positive result/mandatory isolation

5. We will deduct this number of players from the number registered and default to the 7-player rule

6. We are declaring to all Clubs now that only evidenced medical reasons will be accepted if wanting to postpone due to a lack of players. 

7. If sufficient evidence is provided to show that a club cannot field 7 players the game is postponed without sanction and the match will be rescheduled.

8. If a club has 7 or more players but chooses not to play, the offending Club will be fined, deducted three points and they will concede the game.

Grassroots players are typically in full-time employment or education. Sadly, a number of Worcester City players are having to self-isolate over Christmas and are not able to see their families. This is particularly dismal for those who are students having to isolate in student accommodation for the next 10 days.

Jodie Williams, Head coach of WCWFC, and Allison are putting together a Christmas package for those in isolation over the festive period.

Mental health and well-being

The Worcester players were anxious they would be letting their teammates down if they did not play at the weekend. But the risk of contracting Covid and having to miss out on seeing family is putting undue pressure on their decision.

Williams is really concerned that anyone testing positive from December 16th will have to self-isolate over Christmas. The virulence of Omicron coupled with players who trained midweek have tested positive already, lends credibility to the club’s decision to postpone their match.

Player wellbeing is the cornerstone of the WCWFC’s philosophy, however, the league is adamant about repercussions from cancelling games.

To date, Worcester City has played the most fixtures and feel they were being pressured into fulfilling the weekend’s fixture. Bravely, the staff are prepared to accept the consequences in their bid to protect their players physical and psychological health.

Postponement, cancellation or forfeit?

Other grassroots clubs out there must be in a similar predicament. Surely the grassroots leagues have a duty to apply the human element on clubs’ requests, arguments and concerns to postponing matches?

Some clubs might use Covid as an excuse to wriggle out of fixtures due to non-Covid reasons. However, the implications on player mental health and wellbeing are huge. These are girls and women who pay to play their football. Why is this pressure to play in these troubling times so great to risk the health of these extraordinary people?

Wording an email seems to be more important than reducing the inordinate pressure on players to play. Grassroots footballers were in a quandary last weekend. To play, not letting the team down and potentially risking isolation over Christmas. Or not to play, risking club fines and forfeiting the points but seeing family at Christmas.

Grassroots clubs are not supposed to use the term postponement despite the WSL and FAWNL using this expression. Instead, they forfeit the game and points.

In the pandemic, Worcester City have chosen the only logical path they can to protect their players. Fielding a team of seven Covid negative players versus a full squad of opposition “benefits no one,” says Allison.

“At this moment we don’t even know if we will have seven Covid free players on Sunday,” she adds. To paraphrase Emma Hayes statement, grassroots players are also human.

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